Black Teachers Face Challenges As Their Ranks Dwindle | WBEZ
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Morning Shift

Black Teachers Face Challenges As Their Ranks Dwindle

Aaron Talley said he isn’t sure he wants to be a Chicago Public Schools teacher anymore, partly because of the lack of diversity within the district’s teaching ranks.

Talley joined Morning Shift host Tony Sarabia and Acasia Wilson Feinberg, the executive director of Educators 4 Excellence Chicago, to talk about what it’s currently like being a black teacher and what districts like CPS can do to encourage and inspire a more diverse workforce.

CPS has grappled with issues of diversity. A recent investigation by WBEZ’s Sarah Karp revealed that the district’s teacher screening process discriminated against black candidates. CPS in a statement acknowledged it has a diversity problem and is “working to lead the effort to reflect diversity in the classroom.”

Below are highlights from Talley and Feinberg’s conversation on Morning Shift.

On why there are fewer teachers of color

“We know that less people are going into education, and that includes teachers of color,” Feinberg said. “It’s a problem in Chicago. It’s a problem across the country.”  

The trend has to do with the teacher recruitment pipeline. Despite college graduates having more routes to begin careers as educators than ever before, Feinberg said there is a drop in the number of teachers of color entering the workforce from Illinois schools. In 2006, there were around 1,500 black college graduates going into education, she said. In 2015, that number was down to 878. For Latino and hispanic Illinois graduates, Feinberg said those numbers went from around 1,300 in 2006 to about 1,000 in 2015.  

Feinberg pointed to structural issues with teacher recruitment, preparation, and retention, as well as discriminatory hiring processes.

“Implicit bias is something that we face in our culture and certainly in our city and that is no different in our schools,” she said.

Why it’s important to have a diverse teaching force

“There’s new research that suggests that if an African-American student has an African-American teacher, they are three times more likely to be referred to a talented and gifted program than if their teacher is white,” Feinberg said.

According to district data, CPS’ white student population is less than 10 percent. The plurality is Hispanic (46.5 percent), followed by African-American (37.7 percent). However, there is a disparity between the racial makeup of classrooms, teachers and school leadership, including the fact that half of CPS teachers are white.

“A teacher is often the first leader that we put in front of kids,” Feinberg said. “The impact that it can have for a kid to see -- even a white student: This is a black leader. This is someone who is educated and is in a position of authority on a daily basis. I think this is something that’s important for students of color but also for students of all backgrounds and for teachers of all backgrounds.”

Advice for teachers and administrators

“Administrators must provide racially affirming work environments,” Talley said. “Having a racially affirming environment means that you have administrators that are like, ‘Let’s have this conversation. Let’s reflect on who we are as teachers and what we’re bringing to the students.’”

So what happens when teachers and school leadership serve up micro-aggressions -- what Feinberg calls “breaches of our agreed-upon norms around diversity and inclusiveness” -- to their students?

A micro-aggression could involve a white teacher mispronouncing a student of color’s name or describing a student’s background as a “broken home,” Talley said.

Feinberg said administrators cannot referee every instance of a micro-aggression, so they must give teachers and students the skills to address these moments on their own.

Click the ‘Play’ button above to listen to the entire segment.

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